Monday, June 14, 2010

Another look at Brazil's Bolsa Familia

Bolsa Familia is a highly regarded conditional cash transfer program in Brazil. Conditional because it places certain conditions on families that they have to fulfill in order to receive the money. The conditions include keeping the children in school or getting them to doctor or dentist checkups regularly. Despite the successes of Bolsa Familia, there is some debate within Brazil if the program prevents the parents from going out to look for a job.

From the Global Post, writer Seth Kugel profiles one Bolsa Familia family and looks into it's effect on work.

On a typical night, Janaina Alves da Silva and Jose Cicero dos Santos serve their six school-age children a dinner of cuscuz, a traditional corn porridge from the Brazilian northeast, along with fried eggs and coffee to wash it down. All told, the meal costs about three reais, the equivalent of $1.70.

Not bad for a family of eight, but for a household whose only stable income is Brazil’s “Bolsa Familia,” or “Family Stipend” program, the $50 a month they spend on dinner eats up most of the $70 they get from the government to survive.

Bolsa Familia, which reaches more than 12.5 million families across Brazil, has been the signature anti-poverty effort of the Lula administration, which expanded it greatly. Payments, which are tied (at least theoretically) to school attendance, have arguably done more to reduce severe poverty in Brazil than any previous program. The effort has garnered worldwide praise.

Though most Brazilians accept the general concept of the program — no candidate in the current presidential race would dare threaten it — there are bitter debates about its execution and scope, and criticisms of government mismanagement and misuse by families.

Another common criticism is that families decide to live on the payments alone, withdrawing from the labor market. But after spending a day with Dos Santos and Alves da Silva, who spoke openly about their expenditures and budgeting, that seems unlikely. Just to survive, they scramble for part-time work and use their own ingenuity.

They are just one family, of course, but a recent study from the International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth concluded that Bolsa Familia does slightly reduce work incentives, but not so much as to create dependency. (The center is jointly run by the United Nations Development Program and the Brazilian government.)

1 comment:

Matt Davies said...

The UN appointed Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty published a report last year on Cash Transfer Programmes (downloadable from One of her concerns was whether the conditions attached do not exclude and further expose to human rights violations those that fail to comply with the established